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Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit & Wisdom From History's Greatest Wordsmiths    by Mardy Grothe order for
by Mardy Grothe
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I love delving into little books like this, to find turns of phrase that stimulate depth of thought. In his foreword, Richard Lederer calls paradox a 'particularly powerful device to snare truth' and encourages us to discover in it things that 'you did not know you knew.' Dr. Mardy Grothe coined the term oxymoronica 'to describe quotations that contain incompatible or incongruous elements ... and are often profoundly true.'

He divides this little collection into chapters on topics that range from 'The Human Condition' and 'Oxymoronica on Stage & Screen' to 'The Literary Life'. I especially enjoyed 'Oxymoronic Insults' and 'Inadvertent Oxymoronica'. The author analyses a few examples at the beginning of each section, and then presents oxymoronica for us to appreciate on our own. Here are some from the ancients. Augustus Caesar adjures 'Festina lente' or 'Hasten slowly'. Chuang-Tzu tells us that 'A man who knows he is a fool is not a great fool'. Publilius Syrus says 'Agreement is made more precious by disagreement.'

On a lighter note, we have a couple for the Oscars - from William Hazlitt, 'Actors are the only honest hypocrites', and Peter Ustinov shares 'Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.' Here's an anonymous insult, 'Deep down, he's shallow', and from Lillian Dykstra, 'He struts sitting down.' And how's this for impossible to follow advice, 'Be spontaneous'? I like Robert Heinlein's 'Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done and why. Then do it', and this from Harry Emerson Fosdick is very relevant today, 'Liberty is always dangerous - but it is the safest thing we have.'

Those are some of my favorites, but you should really read Oxymoronica yourself. You'll find many gems of wisdom inside, for as Mark Twain said, 'It takes a heap of sense to write good nonsense.'

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